Epichem’s novel technology that converts waste to energy is a game changer, and will take the company and parent PharmAust into the multi-billion dollar bioplastics and bio-ethanol energy markets. 

In early August, clinical stage biotech company, PharmAust (ASX:PAA), announced  that its wholly-owned subsidiary Epichem had reached a critical milestone in developing its disruptive waste-to-fuels technology.

Epcihem had completed building a world’s first flow reactor using the  benchtop Oxidative Hydrothermal Dissolution (OHD) technology, which could turn a wide range of waste and biomass feedstock into valuable energy products.

The technology has the potential to take Epichem and parent PharmAust into the bioplastics and bio-ethanol energy markets, which is expected to be worth $70 billion by 2028.

“This is definitely a game changer,” Epichem’s CEO, Colin La Galia, told Stockhead.

“We’re very excited about this technology, because Australia has 67 million tonnes of waste produced every year, of which only 12% is recycled.”

La Galia says there’s an opportunity to really make a difference here.

The first opportunity is to work with clients to address and convert their waste problem; in other words, make their waste go away.

This would lead to the reduction in the amount of landfill, which is the direction the world is heading towards.

“And depending on the biomass and feedstock input, there’s a real opportunity to repurpose that waste into a valuable end user product or energy, which could then be sold for revenue generation,” he said.

But why aren’t other companies doing the same?

“There are several other companies looking into this space too, but our technology is different in that it keeps the products in a liquid phase, whereas existing technologies convert the products into a gas phase which limits what they can do with the end-user product,” La Galia explained.

“This means that our technology has much greater applications, and we can have greater control over the tweaking of the waste to energy process.”


Carbon friendly technology

La Galia explains that OHD is a novel, disruptive technology which was developed by US-based Australian Ken Anderson, founder and chief technology officer of Thermaquatica.

Epichem currently licenses the technology off Thermaquatica.

The OHD process uses a flow technology through a flow reactor, which has the ability to use some key ingredients such as molecular oxygen, high temperature and high pressure

“The technology requires no catalyst, so there are no emissions,” said La Galia.

It’s carbon neutral and environmentally friendly, and so it makes a good proposition for the mining industry, in single use plastics, rubber tyres, or agricultural plant matter to name a few.”

Epichem is also looking to convert inorganic products like electronic waste (or e-waste), which is currently a big global issue.

‘We’re using e-waste as input and converting it using our OHD technology.”

What are some of the byproducts that could come from e-waste?

“Tin, lead, copper, gold and platinum,” said La Galia.

“But what’s exciting is the production of rare metals, which would have some really good purpose in the defence industry, or the reuse of electronic products.”


Path to commercialisation

The flow reactor is currently being housed at Epichem’s state-of-the-art laboratories located at Technology Park in WA.

The labs have world class equipment and expertise in synthetic and medicinal chemistry to support Epichem’s drug discovery projects, as well as its OHD research and development (R&D).

The company announced last week that it has paid off the last remaining debt that was used to fund building the labs.

“In 2014, we reached out to the PharmAust board and Export Finance Australia, and we were able to get some funding to build our first laboratory in 2015.”

La Galia explained the company outgrew the lab very quickly, and so it had to build a second lab in 2018. The company, through PharmAust, borrowed some more funds in 2018 to build the second lab.

What’s so unique about these labs?

“We have a series of very high tech instrumentations in the lab that allow us to provide up to 99% purity levels on behalf of our clients’ expectations.”

These new labs have also provided jobs for an additional 20 employees, making Epichem one of Australia’s top employers of PhD educated individuals in the medical science and technology SME sector.

“To be able to provide opportunities for them to apply their craft and do what they do best around chemistry is something that I’m very proud of because not all heroes wear capes, some wear lab coats,” said La Galia.

What could investors expect from Epichem and PharmAust going forward?

“We’ve got this exciting OHD technology that we’ll continue to invest in from an R&D perspective,” La Galia told Stockhead.

“From there, we can accelerate into commercialisation by identifying more partners within the mining, agricultural and tech space.”

This article was developed in collaboration with PharmAust, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing.

This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.